Jennings provides big boost to Bucks offense

MILWAUKEE — Brandon Jennings thought he should have had 23 assists.

Instead he’ll have to settle for a career-high 19, one shy of the most in an NBA game this season.

“It was my fault though,” Jennings said. “I should have put them in the right position, I’ll take that though.”

Numbers aside, Jennings was looking to distribute in Milwaukee’s 122-114 overtime victory over Toronto, the Bucks’ third-straight win to move back over .500 at 29-28.

Was Saturday a sign Jennings might be accepting of a slightly different role with the post-trade Bucks? Bucks coach Jim Boylan thinks it could have been.

“He’s looking for his teammates and being unselfish out there,” Boylan said. “Sometimes when the team changes and you have a guy like Brandon who has been doing a lot of scoring and you suddenly ask him to do something else, sometimes that’s not easy to do. He’s accepted that role.

“Not to say he isn’t going to come out and score 25 points in a game next week, but tonight he was delivering the ball. He played really well.”

Jennings had an easy, uncontested layup off a Monta Ellis’ steal with 28.9 seconds left in the first half, but he instead dished it off to a trailing Ersan Ilyasova for a dunk. It gave him 10 assists in the half, the first time that’s happened to a Buck since Ramon Sessions had 13 on Feb. 11, 2009.

He took just four shots in the first half and had just two points, but didn’t turn the ball over. He finished with just three turnovers in 45 minutes.

The Bucks moved the ball well as a team Saturday, something that’s become a trend since adding J.J. Redick to the roster. Milwaukee at one time had assists on 25 of 29 made field goals and finished with 32 assists on 46 made baskets.

“The team is playing well together right now,” Boylan said. “They are sharing the ball with each other, staying active, the bigs are finding openings and our guys were delivering the ball to them tonight. It’s a good thing to see. Kind of another stage in our development as a team.”

Though Jennings was playing a different role Saturday night, he still stepped up and delivered the dagger in the side of Toronto. Milwaukee had run out to a 111-104 lead in overtime, but Toronto had cut it to 115-111 with 58.9 seconds left.

Ilyasova found Jennings open in the corner and he hit a 3-pointer and later added two free throws to put the game away. He finished with 11 points on 12 shots.

“I was struggling to try and score tonight, but I really wasn’t looking to,” Jennings said.

Jennings’ big assist night was just one of numerous good stat lines for the Bucks. Ilyasova had 29 points and 11 rebounds, Larry Sanders added 13 points and 12 rebounds, Ellis had 23 points and Redick chipped in with 16.

It all added up to a big win in yet another close game. While the final score snapped Milwaukee’s run of five straight decided by five points are less, the overtime presented a similar challenge.

Playing without their leading scorer, the Raptors fought, desperately needing to win Saturday to keep a glimmer of playoff hope alive. Chasing the Bucks, Toronto fell to 7.5 games behind Milwaukee, where a win would have pulled the Raptors to within 5.5 games.

With 24 games to play, the Bucks lead Philadelphia by 6 games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. On the other side of things, Milwaukee moved to within one game of Boston in the loss column for the seventh spot.

After losing three straight one-possession games after the All-Star break, Milwaukee has won three to put itself back in the position to look ahead in the standings instead of over its shoulder.

“That just shows our character,” Ellis said. “We continued to play hard and came up with wins.”

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